Reversing the population decline

Demographic statistics findings made public on June 5 by the health and welfare ministry has confirmed what is already well known: Japan’s population will steadily decline unless effective measures are taken in a timely manner. The government and enterprises must waste no time in implementing policies that will encourage couples to have more children.

The ministry said that the total fertility rate in 2011 — the average number of children a woman will give birth to in her lifetime — was 1.39, the same as in 2010. When the birth rate is less than 2.07, total population begins to decline. Japan’s total fertility rate, 4.54 in 1947, fell below 2.0 in 1975 and has remained so since. The rate marked a record low for five straight years from 2001 and hit bottom in 2005. The latest figure shows that the total fertility rate, which had been slowly recovering since 2006, is now at a standstill. For the first time, the average age at which women have their first child topped 30 — 30.1 or 0.2 years up from 2010.

In 2011, the number of women aged 15 to 49 was about 200,000 less than in 2010. The total fertility rate is based on the average number of children a woman at each age of this age group gives birth to in a given year. The fertility rate of women in their 30s and 40s increased in 2011, causing the total fertility rate to level off.

Partly due to the 3/11 disasters, Japan’s population decreased by 202,765 in 2011 — the largest drop since statistics began being taken. Japan saw 1,050,698 babies born in 2011 — 20,606 less than in 2010 and a record low since 1947. It also saw 661,899 couples married. The percentage of marriages in the total population was the lowest in the postwar years. The average age at first marriage was 29.0 for women and 30.7 for men.

In January 2012, the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research announced that Japan’s population will fall to 86.74 million in 2060, about 30 percent less than now. The trend, with a dwindling work force, will weaken Japan’s social security system. This in turn will decrease the fertility rate.

The problems that must be solved are clear. Employment opportunities for young people must be expanded and working hours should be shortened. A sufficient number of day-care facilities for children should be established. Companies must offer job opportunities to mothers who wish to re-enter the workforce. They must also lessen the burden of working parents, such as permitting more flexible work schedules.